Conservation and Environmentalism: Is there a difference?

A while back, I was asked whether I lean more towards conservation or environmentalism, I however also asked whether one can be both. This resulted to various descriptions and opinions on the meaning of each and why one may be inclined more of one than the other or even both.

Conservation is the ethical use and protection of valuable natural resources, such as trees, minerals, wildlife, water and other resources. It focuses on maintaining the natural world in order to protect the source of resources.

Therefore, a conservationist is more inclined to the conservation of species, be it animal, plant, fungi or bacteria. Conservation focuses more on biodiversity, the environment and natural resources.

Environmentalism is a broad social movement concerned with environmental protection and improvement of the health of the environment for the benefit of humanity and none human matter.

Consequently, an environmentalist speaks out about the natural environment and the sustainable management of its resources through changes in public policy or individual behavior. Concepts such as land ethics, environmental ethics, biodiversity and ecology are the main focus.

In both situations, you will appreciate that biodiversity is a key aspect. Both are also concerned with how natural resources are managed. Therefore let us discuss whether one be both or choose to incline more towards one principle.

A local example would be two Kenyan government bodies, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).  Under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2013, Section 7 states the function of the stated service KWS which include conserving and managing national parks, wildlife conservation areas, and sanctuaries under its jurisdiction; providing security for wildlife and visitors in national parks, wildlife conservation areas and sanctuaries among other functions. Under the Environmental Management and Co-Ordination Act (EMCA) where NEMA is the official statutory body under the act, Section 9 (1) states that “The object and purpose for which the Authority is established is to exercise general supervision and co-ordination over all matters relating to the environment and to be the principal instrument of Government in the implementation of all policies relating to the environment.”

In this case, when KWS has a major project in any conservation area, NEMA is consulted on the viability of the project as it greatly affects the environment. NEMA is also concerned with waste management, pollution, renewable resources and largely, sustainable use of resources in the country, whether in a conservation area or not. KWS on the other hand is genuinely concerned with species conservation, their habitats and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction. Both this organization work together to ensure protection of the natural world for the benefit of both human beings, non-human beings and the environment.

In broad terms, an environmentalists is more inclined towards matters pollution, deforestation, global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, ozone layer depletion, waste management, environmental degradation, clean energy, carbon footprint, policy making and an individual role and conduct towards the environment. A conservationist on the flip side is concerned with a species, its habitat, the ecosystem and communities living with wild life. How changes in the ecosystem are affecting a species? What needs to be done for the species to thrive? What is affecting the ecosystem? How are humans affecting the species in question? Be it in illegal hunting, grazing or human-wildlife conflicts.

One can however be a conservationist and an environmentalist, while dealing with issues of global warming, pollution and the above stated leading to the conservation of a species. Also at an individual level one becomes more aware of amount of water they use, amount of waste one generates and one’s overall carbon footprint while in pursuit of a clean and safe environment for all species. A conservationist is never pleased to see pollution in a conservation area and is always keen to note the effects of climate change and deforestation in these areas resulting to them being environmentalists too.

Some will say they are Environmental Conservationists while others are Conservation Biologist. There are so many titles that will all be geared towards the same aspect, the natural world. In the end, we are all acknowledging  the same principles, which is the protection of our natural resources, be it species specific, the individual mindset or in policy making. We all focus on the protection of the environment and human beings and working together will certainly yield to great results.

Wherever you place yourself, let us work together in providing a world where human beings and the natural world which we are part of can co-exist peacefully and prosper.

“The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die,” – Soren Kierkegaard


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